As a special-teams enthusiast, one of my pet peeves is the constant ridicule of kickers and punters as goofy nerds. Kicking miscues cost Cincinnati and Dallas dearly last season; in contrast, Jason Elam showed Brady-esque poise and skill in banging home a field goal at the gun on Sunday to lift Denver over Buffalo. Call it parity or mediocrity, the closeness in talent in today's NFL puts a premium on field position. Tilting the field with consistent punting or deep kickoffs is essential, despite what all the ex-linemen and quarterbacks on the pregame shows tell you.Sound familiar?
Weintraub also touches on another common misperception, one that often shows up as teams prepare for the draft: running backs are overrated. And for me, a running back drafted in the top half of the first round is a draft pick wasted.
Obviously, opinions vary, both on using a fourth-round pick on a punter, or taking a running back with one of the first 15 selections. This explains why Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch -- two rookie runners who, by the way, had pretty nice opening weeks -- were taken so early, and why punters Podlesh and Sepulveda were drafted early on Day 2.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' recommitment to special teams explains the Sepulveda selection, but there were some discussions in the weeks leading up to the draft that the team might have a chance -- and should give serious consideration to -- drafting either Peterson or Lynch. Thankfully, it didn't come to that, although I suspect most of Steelers Nation would've preferred almost anyone to Lawrence Timmons.
[As an aside, did anybody watch the second half of the Monday night doubleheader? I did. I'm not proud to admit it -- it was probably one of the 10 most boring games in the history of organized football -- but I wanted to get a peek at the new-look Cardinals (they look just like the old-look Cardinals … shocking, I know), and the 49ers first first-round pick: Patrick Willis. Um, that dude is for real. He was all over the yard smacking whoever got near him. Some of the pre-draft talk was that he was soft, but I didn't see any hint of that Monday night.
I bring this up not to point out that I wanted Willis back in April -- as I've noted before, my draft knowledge is strictly courtesy of Mike Mayock, draft mags, and Scout.com -- just to show that the draft is like a box of chocolates. Plus, I'm warming to Larry Timmons now that he's had that groin-replacement surgery. He's not making a Willis-like impact, but Timmons had a nice special teams showing against Youngstown State's scout team last Sunday. Given where the guy was just a few weeks ago, I'll take it.]
Last week, Adam Gretz pointed out that Stan Savran had this to say about the teams' running backs: only one, Najeh Davenport, was drafted, and he wasn't even drafted by the Steelers. That's right, Willie Parker, Gary Russell, Carey Davis and Dan Kreider were all signed as undrafted free agents. And the Packers didn't take Davenport until the fourth round of the 2002 draft … behind such future Hall of Famers as William Green, T.J. Duckett, Maurice Morris and Lamar Gordon.
Of all the things Steelers' fans have been bellyaching about this preseason, the running backs don't even make the list. The offensive line, Timmons, Big Ben's bounce back and Nate Washington's (lack of?) progress all got more virtual ink than the running game. If anything, people were excited about the possibility of both Davis and Russell making the roster, and whether phasing out Kreider was such a good idea.
It's easy to blame the front office for the myriad Day 2 blunders, but there's something to be said for unearthing all this undrafted talent. If nothing else, it shows how little difference there is among most NFL players. Save a few "special" guys -- Julius Peppers, Jonathan Ogden and Peyton Manning immediately come to mine -- everybody else is pretty much in the same talent boat. The fact that Pittsburgh's 53-man roster is littered with undrafted free agents suggests as much. That the scouts were able to find these guys is, in my mind, much more impressive than upping the batting average on fourth-and fifth-round picks. But that's just me.
Off the top of my head, I'd be hard-pressed to suggest who would be better fits in Pittsburgh's system than Parker, Kreider (and now Davis), Chris Hoke, James Harrison, Ryan Clark and Skippy Reed. Are there better players? Sure, but the Steelers won a Super Bowl with most of these guys, which tells me it has to do with more than sheer talent. Just ask Lawrence Phillips.